My rating: 3 of 5 stars
More Christians have been martyred in our century than during all the other eras of Church history combined.
Hundreds of their stories are told in By Their Blood, a continuation of the classic Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Some of the stories are well known: John and Betty Stam were beheaded by an anti-foreign mob; Jim Elliot and four others were slain by Auca Indians in Ecuador.
Most of the accounts are less known but equally dramatic and soul-stirring. From missionaries terrorized by the Chinese Boxers to believers tortured behind the Iron Curtain, here is a montageof those who have given their lives for the cause of Christ in the twentieth century.
As I write this review, I haven’t yet finished reading By Their Blood. However, having read about two-thirds of it, I think I have a fairly developed opinion of the book. In the name of posting my monthly review, I’m going to go ahead and write it now. If my feelings about the book change (and if I remember), I’ll try to update my words accordingly.
I vote 3/5 stars for the second edition of By their Blood, written by James C. and Marti Hefley. According to Goodreads, this means I “liked it.” The book’s subtitle reads “Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century.” It compiles hundreds of accounts by first sorting them according to the region of the world (and country within that region) and then telling the accounts from each country in roughly chronological order.
I chose this book because I was interested in learning of those who, by God’s grace, were faithful to Him and to His Gospel until death. I don’t have a natural interest in history. Names and dates go in one ear and out the other. Although it is laid out like a novel, this book reads more like a textbook, and honestly, I found myself nodding off during some parts. In typing that, I sound callous and insensitive to my own ears; here I am reading stories where lives are lost and I can’t stay focused. Well, I’ve said it as it is. I was inspired by certain other stories, though, particularly when the martyr in question was one person with a name and a family, rather than a large group of anonymous “Christians.”
Why do I write “Christians” in quotation marks? Well, it turns out that not all the martyrs featured in this book are Gospel-believing Christians. Page 301 of the book talks about people dying for “freedom and faith.” Faith could mean a vast number of things. Placed in anything besides Christ, it’s dead. It’s heart-wrenching to think of people who lived and died the death of a martyr and then faced God apart from Christ (Read more of my thoughts here). At least one part of the book depicted battles between Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians which involved mass killings just as brutal and bloody as if the murderers had been anti-God. This was admittedly a hurdle for me to overcome, but once I put words to my conflicted feelings, I was much more at peace to continuing reading. After all, not only Protestants have died for their faith, whatever that faith may be. Overall, it was a blessing to me to think through this, and I grew from the experience.
To summarize my thoughts, I think it’s good for me to be reading By their Blood and learning from it – when my mind is focused on the text. I would recommend it to others who want to learn about martyrs from a very historical angle, and would just give a word of warning regarding the hurdle that I personally had to overcome.
A Note on Content
Given that this book is about martyrs, a lot of violence is to be expected. Violence in this book includes but is not limited to:
- Methodical torture
- Burning at the stake
- Battles and mass killings
- Gunfire and bombing
- Mobs and beatings
- Tribal violence and cannibalism
Sometimes, persecutions included sexual abuse. I cannot recall descriptions ever going into great detail; they were generally summarized with a sentence.
Magic and the occult:
There are mentions and brief descriptions of animism and satanic worship. This book does NOT condone such practices, but rather uses such descriptions to paint a picture of the environment in which missionaries and national believers served.
I don’t recall any foul language or any language which makes light of hell or any instances where the Lord’s name was used in vain.
Let’s Talk about it
- Have you ever read this book or any other books or accounts about martyrs?
- Are you into history? Does a historical approach to storytelling phase or attract you?
- What are you reading now?